Talent & Creativity

The older I get the more saddened I am by how few people seem to have their own artistic or creative hobbies. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard people admitting with downcast eyes that they “can’t sing.” Even I struggle with the idea of dancing in front of anyone else, and until recently even when I’m alone. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ll never forget it because it made such an impression on me. A reporter went to a tribal community for a documentary. The tribe was having a festival of sorts and wanted the reporter to join them as they sang. When he told the leader that he couldn’t sing, they stared at him perplexed. This was such a strange concept to them that at first they assumed me meant he was physically incapable of singing. It hadn’t occurred to them that what he really meant was, I’m not a good enough singer.

As children we didn’t stop ourselves from doing things because we weren’t as good as celebrities or others in our lives. Kids sing and dance and draw and create endlessly. It’s one of the most special parts of human nature. Somewhere along the line, we became ashamed though. We’ve gotten it into our heads that we don’t deserve to spend time and energy on these things unless we are “talented.” (Whatever that means.) So often when I show other people my drawings they respond with, “wow, I wish I could draw.” Sometimes they’ll even recount to me how much they loved to draw as a child. This is so heartbreaking to me, partially because I understand the feeling.

My sister is a wonderful artist. At the height of her painting career, I had already moved away from drawing, but certainly wouldn’t have felt it worthwhile anymore comparing myself to her artwork. Eventually she stopped painting all together though for another reason entirely. Her reason wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was because she couldn’t make a living painting. This is the other side of the same problem. We either think we aren’t good enough, or that it isn’t worth it if we aren’t able to monetize our work. I have to suspect that our capitalistic culture is to blame for these absurd notions we all seem to share.

Even though I’ve been making a point to write and draw every single day for over a year now, I am still constantly battling my own self-doubt. There are definitely far more days where I create something I deem mediocre than days where I impress myself, but it’s important to remember that each of those days holds the same value. Art and creativity aren’t about being superior to others or making money. These endeavors are not limited to an exalted few. They are an essential aspect of human nature. We were made to create. There is no such thing as “talented” or “untalented.” It’s all a matter of perspective. The more you practice, the better you will inevitably become, but even that isn’t my point. My point is that it doesn’t matter.

Whether you believe what you create is “good” or not, keep creating! Art isn’t about comparison and metrics and measurements. We all contain a deep well of creative energy that we allow to stagnate from disuse. And if you find yourself still shaking your head thinking “I’m just not creative” imagine a crayon drawing given to you by a child. I feel most of us have had this experience or at least can imagine it. When I got a bit older, I thought adults must have just pretended to like my pathetic scribbles and misshapen forms. However, now as an adult myself, who is often the proud recipient of such art, I understand that my parents and teachers really did love what I created all those years ago. Art has the power to make people happy, to make you happy, if you let it. And it has nothing to do with how professional or perfect it is. Art is about who made it, not the final product.

I always think back to a little character my friend drew a few years ago while we were playing a game. She never does anything creative anymore, although she used to draw just as much as I did when we were kids. She was embarrassed to reveal this little doodle to me, but even all these years later, I think back on it and smile. It was so incredibly adorable (yet so far away from what she was “supposed” to draw for the game.) It brought me so much joy. It wasn’t just the drawing itself either. It was the fact that this wonderfully unique little creature had come out of the mind of my dear friend. Anything creative is a glimpse into the private mind of the creator, and that is where its value truly lies.

The saddest part of this whole cultural predicament is that our deeply ingrained beliefs about productivity, creativity, and talent leave a lot of us disillusioned with art all together. I want to say, if you like doing something, do it, whether you’re “good” at it or not. But that isn’t enough. The joy of creating has been tainted by these critical thoughts, so much so that I lot of us don’t enjoy creative pursuits. After all why would you enjoy something that makes you feel inferior and “untalented”? For this reason, I would encourage everyone to make an effort to integrate more creative hobbies into their daily routine, whether you think you’ll enjoy it or not. Just do it as an experiment. You may surprise yourself. At the very least, you’ll be giving your right brain some much needed exercise.

3 Common Fallacies About Creativity

Believe Your Kids

Everyday at my job I listen to kids talk about what may very well be the worst moments of their lives. It is a moving experience to watch the bravery they show by disclosing such personal, traumatic details to someone they’ve just met a few moments ago. It is an honor to get to meet these amazing young people and to offer them help in their healing journey. Especially when there are so many cases where myself and my coworkers are the only ones who believe them.

Most people assume that hearing these gruesome stories of physical and sexual abuse must be the hardest part of my job. That’s definitely what I thought when I first got hired. However, since then I’ve learned that there are even more difficult things to confront. Even more sickening than the abuse for me, is learning that the child’s own parent does not believe them, does not support them, chooses their abuser over them. This is a much more serious and impactful betrayal. I simply cannot stomach these “parents.”

Just recently a case went to court for sentencing. The perpetrator took a plea and our therapist went with the child to the sentencing. She came back to the office afterward to report that the mother went to support the abuser. The grandmother of the child even spoke on his behalf, actually cried, said she loved him and that she knew he was a good man. In the months leading up to this trial, the mother basically abandoned her child. She pressured her to recant her discloser of the abuse, belittled her, threatened her. Even after the boyfriend confessed, plead guilty, and was sentenced, the mother stayed by his side.

After the sentencing, the mother posted a huge pile of garbage on Facebook accusing the detective and CPS worker of lying on the stand and blaming her daughter for her own abuse. She drug her daughter, as well as the father who stood by her, through the mud for everyone to see. She implied that the daughter deserved it because she was sexually active at 14, accused the father of being addicted to meth, said her own daughter was dirty and diseased and a liar.

As if it wasn’t bad enough what this girl had to suffer through for five years of her childhood, now she must face the abandonment and betrayal of her own mother as well. What makes it even worse is what I know from the research I’ve read about child abuse. Most of us assume that these types of experiences leave scars no matter what. We agonize at the thought that these children may be forever changed and damaged from what has happened to them. However, the research shows that there is still hope for these wonderful kids. More impactful than the events themselves, is the response the child gets when they finally disclose. Children that are believed and supported by others in their family and community find resilience and strength in the face of adversity. They heal and become stronger for it. Unfortunately, children that are dismissed, ignored, not believed, punished, blamed, etc. are more likely to suffer negative mental health consequences from their abuse.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I always tell the decent parents this information. I offer them this knowledge as encouragement and to acknowledge the significant contribution they have already made to their child’s wellbeing by simply being there for them. To be taken advantage of and hurt by a friend, relative, or other known person is bad enough, but then to have that wound torn even deeper by the rejection of you own mother, father, or caregiver, the very person you look to for love and protection, is unthinkable. To be set adrift in an unsafe world with no safety net, no loving hand to guide you, that is the most harmful thing you can do to a child.

No matter how many times I see this happen (and it happens quite a lot) I never cease to be amazed. Who could be so cruel, so heartless, so callous toward their own flesh and blood child? Apparently a lot of people. I’m writing this post today to bring awareness to this disgusting phenomenon. If a child ever discloses something like this to you, BELIEVE THEM. Understandably a lot of people don’t know what to do if their child or another child in their life tells them something atrocious like this has happened. The only thing that you need to do is listen, make sure they are safe, then report it to the proper authorities. Don’t ask questions, don’t dismiss the child, just thank them for trusting you enough to tell you. Because it is such a beautiful gift to be a child’s confidant. Please don’t be another person that harms this child by denying their experience. Know that by simply being there for the child and believing them, you have given them something to hold onto, you are already helping them heal.

And to the parents out there that betray their own children, you have no right to call yourself a parent. You are a monster just as much as the person who abused them is. You don’t deserve to be any part of any child’s life. If it were up to me, you would face charges as well. You have done unspeakable, irreparable damage to an innocent child and I hope you suffer every day for that. I hope you are eaten alive by the shame of what you have done.

Child abuse: Everything you need to know to keep your kids safe

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up

To this day, I have no answer to this question. I never did. I always felt like a weirdo for not having an answer. Everyone else didn’t even seem to hesitate before happily responding: firefighter, policeman, doctor, nurse, etc. My own mother used to be concerned that I always replied: I don’t know. I was confident that someday I would have an epiphany and know exactly what career I’d like to pursue. Someday I’d be able to answer confidently like all the other kids. I was sure of it.

Unfortunately, I was applying to college before I realized that epiphany wasn’t coming. I was confronted with the huge decision of what to major in when I still wasn’t sure what options were even out there or what I would be best suited for. My parents had never been particularly passionate about their jobs, so I never really expected to be either. In my mind, I couldn’t grasp why anyone would actually want to work anywhere. Working in general seemed awful and constricting. I just wanted to live my life. I wanted to be free to do whatever I saw fit on any given day. It seemed like a nightmare to be locked into doing one thing forever. So I basically soldiered onward with the assumption that regardless of which career path I choose, I’d end up hating it.

Thankfully, I have always been very intelligent and can achieve pretty much whatever I put my mind to. I was free to select any major and know that I’d be capable of handling the course material. At first I went for the sciences because I knew that’s where the money was. If I was going to hate my job either way, I might as well make some money. However, after only a semester of that, I decided it was too much effort and stress for something I had no passion for. I gave up on the idea of being rich and decided my quality of life from day to day was more important. I decided to switch my major to psychology since my Psych 101 class was the only one I actually enjoyed.

At the end of the day, I was very lucky. I managed to accidentally fall into the exact right field for myself. Not only do I find psychology and the human brain endlessly fascinating to learn about, I am able to use what I learn and the interactions I have with my clients to help me be a better version of myself, which is also one of my favorite things to work on.

Through my own experience in education and the workforce, I’ve come to realize that we as a society are asking kids all the wrong questions. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even as a child I thought that was a peculiar question to ask someone so young. How the hell should I know? That was always what I was wondering. It’s funny when you really think about it. How many jobs are children even aware of? And of the handful that they do know, how much do they understand about what those jobs actually entail on a daily basis? I used to think there was something wrong with me for not knowing. Now I realize that even the kids who had an answer didn’t really know either. How could they? Does a child that says, “I want to be a doctor,” really know what it means to be a doctor? Don’t the kids that say, “I want to be a veterinarian,” just say that because they enjoy spending time with animals?

Honestly part of the problem is the apathy of the parents and the education system. You might as well ask these kids where they want to go to college. It the job of the adults in these kids’ lives to teach them what is available, to guide them toward goals that they are well suited for. I think instead of asking children what they want to be, we should ask them what they are endlessly curious about. We should ask them what they think they’d be able to learn about every day and never get bored. Then as those interests grow and evolve, parents and teachers should explain to children the different careers that would involve their interests on a daily basis. It’s hard to hate your job when it’s something that deeply interests you.

It’s such a shame all the ways in which our education system fails our children. School is supposed to prepare us for the real world, yet that idea has become a joke instead. I think a lot of people, like myself, have assumed that a lot of these things are being covered at home by the kids’ parents. However, when I began working in the community, I realized that there are sooo many people that don’t have responsible, caring, capable family members to teach them these things. Unfortunately it would be better for us to assume that children aren’t learning anything at home, because a huge proportion of them aren’t.

For the limited time I get to spend with the children I meet everyday, I am going to do my best to ask them the right questions. Then they may at least have a concept of where to start. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I can do at the moment. Hopefully someday I will become a teacher and get a chance to make a bigger impact on the next generation. But if you are a teacher or if you have your own children, try asking them what they are interested in learning rather than what they want to be. Help give them an idea of what options are out there for them and what those options actually look like in practice. Give this upcoming generation a chance to thrive and love what they do in the future.

50 Career Day Ideas and Activities

Generational Connection

Six Ways to Upgrade Your Praise

I am in such a good mood this morning. Even though I lost my vape somehow and spent nearly $200 on wine yesterday, I still got to spend the whole day with an amazing, loving little girl. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned her before on my blog, but my sister’s boyfriend has a six-year-old daughter named Alaina. She is the most precious, well-behaved child I have perhaps ever met. (and I work with kids everyday.) I can’t seem to stop being fascinated by how happy she makes me though. As someone who never interacted with or cared much for children before I got my current job, it is a constant mystery to me why I love her and the other children I meet so much.

It almost feels like a chemical reaction is trigged in my brain when children are around. My heart opens wide and loving kindness floods my senses. I am overwhelmed with the desire to see them happy and to make a positive impact on their young minds. Especially when it comes to young children, I am also touched by their accepting and curious nature. Children don’t seem to judge at all. Even when they point out something rude like someone’s weight, it is never done in a malicious way. It is simply an observation that we interpret as an insult. Children embrace the world and everyone in it for what they are. For this reason, I feel I am able to take down the mask I wear for the world when I am with them.

The most intriguing aspect of my love of children is that none of these children are related to me. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would happen. And it’s not just me, my mom and grandma and aunt all seem to love Alaina just as much as I do despite none of us having a connection to her biologically. When I got older, I felt patronized by what I saw as my family’s feinted interest in the things I did when I was a young child. I felt lied to that they told me my art was good, that I was smart, etc. It felt like everyone around me must have just been playing a role. They couldn’t have really gave a damn about seeing me ride a pony around in a circle at the county fair.

Being with Alaina has taught me that that isn’t true at all. I genuinely loved watching her riding a pony yesterday. I loved seeing her happy. I loved watching the wonder that colors her perception of the world. I even had to laugh as she yelled, “WOAH!” at every single firework last night. I know a few years ago, I would have been the young woman angrily wondering why those people don’t make their kid be quiet. Now even the things that would have annoyed me about stranger’s children in the supermarket, only make me smile.

Funny enough, it reminds me of something from Interview with the Vampire, which I watched a few weeks ago for the first time. (I may have been an aspect of Twilight as well.) The vampires could live forever so it was important for them not to become too disconnected from the living world. They were encouraged to interact with the people of each time period to maintain some of their humanity.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I feel like I can relate to that sentiment. Children keep me connected to humanity. They also keep me grounded in the present moment, because that’s where they are. They allow me to see the world through fresh, eager, innocent eyes. It is a joy to be an influence on them, to know that you can potentially make a huge impact in their lives. It is a responsibility that I am honored to have. It is a joy and a privilege to be a protector, a teacher, an example. Time spent with a child, is a meaningful investment in the future.

That’s why it is all the more painful to realize that these children don’t have much of a future to invest in. As much as I’ve wished the rest of the world would acknowledge the fact that it’s largely too late for us to adequately address climate change, it was crushing to hear a newscaster in a video Alaina was watching address children with the message of an inevitably catastrophic future. After I had finally come to terms with my own shortened lifespan, my wound was ripped open anew at the prospect of the even greater loss for the tiny soul snuggled into my side. What shame, what anguish I feel to leave these children with a decimated earth. How badly I wish I could tell all the generations after me that I’m sorry.

Even if it’s futile, I am going to keep fighting for them, for the animals, for all the most vulnerable and innocent among us. Even though it hurts, it’s so worth it.

Using Praise to Encourage Good Behaviors

Thank You Letter to an Amazing OBGYN

Why Women Should Visit the Ob/Gyn Every Year? - 9 Important Reasons |  Trogolo Obstetrics and Gynecology – OBGYN Specialist

Dear Dr. Dudley,

It has been nearly two years now since I met with you for the last time. You may not even remember me. But since then, you have no idea how often I think about what an amazing doctor you are. I am immensely grateful to have met you and that I was able to trust you with my body and my medical care. I am also overwhelmed with gratitude that you respected me enough as an individual to honor my decision to go forward with a tubal ligation even though I am so young and have no children.

Just yesterday, a new coworker was talking about how she had to fight to get the same procedure for years, even though she was married with two kids at the time. She was still given the excuse that she was too young. Eventually her doctor agreed to do the procedure but would only consent to one particular version and didn’t allow her the autonomy to choose for herself.

After having such an amazing experience with you (the first doctor I had consulted about the procedure) I genuinely thought all the rumors I heard about doctors not allowing women to make those kinds of decisions about their own bodies were just that, rumors. I was so comforted, believing that must be a thing of the past, that society had grown to respect women more. When I heard the personal testimony of other women in my life, that comfort vanished.

My heart cries out at the injustice these medical professionals are doing to their female patients. I cannot imagine the pain of discovering your own doctor doesn’t respect you enough to let you decide what’s best for your own body and life. At the same time, hearing about other women’s experiences first hand makes me all the more thankful I was able to meet you. Words cannot express the peace and empowerment you have given to me. I will never forget it.

Since my procedure, the nightmares I once had about being pregnant, the fearful days of anticipation before starting my period, the burden of birth control side effects, all of those things have vanished completely from my life. I have never felt more at peace with my body. Although, my feelings about having children of my own has not changed, I would still prefer adoption in the event they do someday.

I thought you would be happy to know, despite not wanting my own children, I do have a new job that allows children to be a very big part of my life. I am currently working at a non-profit called Harmony House in Ohio. We are a child advocacy center, and I am the child and family advocate. My job consists primarily of explaining our process to the kids and their parents and then playing/talking with them in the waiting room while their parents meet with the other professionals.

When I met you I didn’t have much knowledge or interest in kids. Now I get to meet the most incredible, funny, smart, resilient kids every day. It is such a joy to be able to help them and offer them the understanding, respect, and love that many are not receiving at home. While parenting is not a good fit for me, child advocacy has given me the chance to still contribute to the betterment of future generations and experience the joy children bring to the world. I have also managed to find a loving partner who is completely supportive of my decision to not have children. Like me, he prefers our fur-children anyway.

I just wanted to reach out to you and say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I wanted to make sure you knew that my mind has not changed. I am still grateful every day for all that you have done for me. I hope that you are happy and doing well. I know working in healthcare has been especially difficult these last two years. You are in my thoughts and I wish you the absolute best.

The Importance of Play

One of the things working with children has taught me, is just how important it is to make time for play. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Play is an essential part of leading a happy and fulfilling life. It seems like once we reach a certain age we think we are “too old” to be “wasting time” on such frivolous affairs. We can often even be mocked or looked down upon by those in our peer group or older generations for not “growing up” or “learning to act our age.” For some reason, as a society, it seems like we find unpleasant, but necessary tasks to be more worthy of our time than tasks that actually bring us enjoyment or pleasure. The irony is, when we are doing mundane “adult” things, it is ultimately to preserve and ensure our future happiness. So if happiness is the goal no matter what we’re doing, why always put it off in some distant future if we are capable of having simple pleasures right now as well?

I think one of the reasons a lot of adults tend to enjoy spending time with children even if they are not their own, is because they remind us how delightful it can be to play and pretend. Even just watching them do so can have a calming, pleasant effect on us. We are sometimes able to live vicariously through these children. As a child, I loved to play with little figurines and have pretend adventures and scenarios with them. Some days I would fill up the sink and they would have a “pool” day. Or we would go outside and they would go hiking or camping in the weeds. I’d collect small flowers and berries for them. These were some of the happiest times in my life. Back then, time didn’t matter. It hardly seemed to exist. I didn’t ask myself why I was doing the things I did. It didn’t matter. I was happy. Wasn’t that reason enough? Things seemed so much simpler back then.

I distinctly remember one day begging my mother to play with me. She did her best, but was mostly just watching me. I asked her why she wasn’t doing anything. She told me that she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do. She had actually forgotten how to play. I vividly remember the confusion and disbelief I felt at the time. How can you not know how to play? It made no sense, but I felt sorry for her. It seemed impossible that I could ever forget something like that. Yet here I am over a decade later with no idea how I occupied so much time with my make believe. It breaks my heart each time I sit down with the kids I work with at a doll house and struggle to come up with anything to do. I want to weep for that inner child that has become all but lost to me.

I’ve learned that play is something that takes practice. Thankfully I am surrounded by children every day that can help me with that practice. Just the other day a little 5-year-old boy and I played robbers together. He had us talk in deep, gravely voices as we planned our heist. Then we ran around the waiting room, laughing maniacally as we clutched our fake money. It was a great time. Even though it’s hard to have such boundless, imaginary play as an adult, I have still been trying to implement more creativity and structured play into my days. Playing for me now mostly includes casual video gaming and art.

Even though I acknowledge that this play is worthwhile, it is still hard for me to justify the time I spend on it (even though it isn’t much.) I am constantly giving myself chores to do before I feel alright allowing myself time to just enjoy and have fun. Unfortunately, by the time I reach the evening hours I’ve set aside for it, I am too exhausted, stressed, and listless to really even enjoy my playtime. Another problem I run into is getting too serious about whatever it is I’m doing. When I began drawing (and even writing) everyday, my only goal was to schedule time for myself to explore my creativity and just have fun. But now that these things have become a habit, I have been feeling a lot of pressure surrounding these activities. It has started to feel more like work than play.

With so many gamers now available to watch online, even my casual video games have started to feel like a burden rather than a joy. I can’t help watching others play and then comparing my progress in the game to theirs. I feel rushed, inadequate, unhappy with where I am. Even though I know it’s utterly ridiculous, I can’t seem to help feeling this way. Often times this feeling is so strong that I give up on the game all together. I hope that by continuing to challenge these feelings I will be able to overcome them little by little. I hope I will be able to transform this playtime into something similar to meditation. Rather than focus on how my art compares to other’s or how far behind I may be in a virtual world, I will keep working to focus on my breath, on the pleasure I feel in the moment.

Living in a society so focused on production and outcomes, it can be hard to find the value in simple experiences. What once were things I looked forward to have started to become things I feel anxious about. I feel pressured to make each drawing better than the last. I criticize myself for not being creative enough or improving fast enough or consistently enough. I feel like what I write is just rambling nonsense no one cares about. That my art isn’t worth showing anyone. But even if those things were true, it wouldn’t matter! I must keep repeating to myself that the point isn’t the final product, it’s the pleasure of the process. What I create or work on doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be good. As long as I’ve enjoyed the time I spent working on it, that is all that matters.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Empathy for All

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in such an interesting field. Psychology has always fascinated me, but actually working with kids and families in my community has broadened my horizons even more than I could have imagined back when I was still in school. Given that I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life, it seems strange to me that I would have such a good time working is social services. However, I’ve learned to be more fascinated than fearful of people. Even so, I also believe that I am on the autistic spectrum which I feel gives me an interesting perspective on interpersonal matters. I have always been able to set aside my emotions around a subject or situation fairly easily and act based on logic and facts rather than my feelings.

I’ve learned throughout my life though, that this analytical character of mine can often be seen as cold and calculating by those around me. Many times I have offered up an opinion about something that seems perfectly logical to me, but has been terribly shocking and offensive to others. For instance, a recent conversation I’ve had with a friend at work sticks out to me. We were discussing the idea of legalizing all drugs and illicit substances. We both agreed that at face value, this seems like a shocking and unethical idea. I think most people have a gut reaction to this proposal that causes them to condemn it right away. However, I have read the research on this idea from countries where similar policies have been implemented. It came as a surprise to me, but legalizing these substances actually has the opposite effect than you would expect. Rather than more people abusing drugs and overdosing, there are less instances of this behavior. This is because people are more easily able to reach out for help. There is less of a stigma surrounding drug abuse. People that use are also able to do so more safely than they are when it’s illegal, which results in less instances of overdose and infection.

After discovering this data, I was fully on board with legalizing all drugs. Even though my emotional reaction to the idea remained unchanged. It still felt like a bad idea, but I was confident in the science enough to overlook my personal biases. However, when I shared this information with my coworker, he refused to change his position on the matter. I asked him, “So you’re still against it even if it results in less drug abuse?” This seemed so interesting to me. That even highly intelligent people will often side with their emotions rather than the facts.

A similar discussion came up the other day at a meeting with people we work with on cases of child abuse. We began discussing the idea of virtual child pornography or child sex dolls. Of course the idea is repulsive. Everyone’s initial reaction is of disgust and condemnation. Yet, I remain convinced that if there is data that shows these things lessen the likelihood that actual children will be abused, then I think they should be allowed. I’m not aware that there is any such data. It could very well be the exact opposite. But even in this hypothetical situation, no one else would agree that this should ever be legal. Even if it stops children from being abused. Once again, I was left feeling amazed at the irrationality of these smart individuals.

I am careful to watch what I say, lest I upset anyone, but a lot of the time, I don’t find it as easy to condemn the alleged perpetrators as I feel I should. Obviously child abuse of any kind is inexcusable and all measures must be taken to protect children from these offenders. However, this doesn’t make me incapable of still feeling sorry for everyone involved. After all, a lot of pedophiles were once the innocent victims. This obviously doesn’t justify their crimes, but it does somewhat explain them. We are unable to just cast these people out of society. The fact remains that putting them in prison for ten years doesn’t solve the problem. They are very likely to go on offending as soon as they are released. The science has shown that as upsetting as it is, pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It is something that cannot be changed. These people must learn how to control these urges and understand that although they cannot control their thoughts, they are able to control their actions. If they are considered monsters by society for their thoughts alone, why wouldn’t they give in to their urges? There needs to be an effort to rehabilitate these people, not just punish them.

Often we will interview a child because they have been abusing other children. We won’t ask them about what they’ve done, rather we try to ascertain whether or not something has happened to them that is causing them to act out this abuse on others. I think it’s very interesting that when a child hurts another child, we still feel empathy and compassion for both of them. It makes me wonder at what point we draw the line. When does a troubled child become an unforgivable adult? Does the limit of our compassion end at eighteen? Why do we make that distinction?

I find it hard to make sense of this divide, even though I do feel it viscerally within myself. It is much easier to vilify an adult than a child for the same crime. At the same time it seems illogical to arbitrarily make a decision that someone isn’t culpable at 16 but they are at 18. How exactly were they expected to “fix themselves” now that they are legally an adult? This atmosphere of shame and condemnation only makes it harder for the “undesirables” in society to seek help. Apparently in the U.S. you may be reported to the authorities for even mentioning you feel sexually attracted to minors to your therapist, even if you’ve never acted on those urges.

At the end of the day, despite our feelings on these difficult matters, we need to act and make decisions in a way that results in the best outcomes for society as a whole. Sometimes it may end up to be something that at face value seems counterintuitive. But we’ve got to learn to look past our emotional impulses and trust the data. I certainly don’t know all the answers to these very challenging questions. I just hope that we can be objective and open as we continue to search for those answers.

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Meditation for Kids

I’ve seen a few articles that discuss the benefits of replacing things like time out or detention with meditation whether in school or at home. Even since hearing about this idea, I’ve been a huge fan. It seems like a lot of the time parents and teachers can become so frustrated in the moment that they resort reflexively to age old punishments. Most people have used and/or been subjected to spanking or time outs. But how many of us have actually checked into the data behind whether or not these things are actually effective? Not only that, a lot of the time it seems like the intention behind these punishments seems to get lost somewhere along the way.

I would hope that most parents and teachers enact punishments in an attempt to correct and change negative, disruptive, or dangerous behaviors. While I’m not sure if the data supports the time out strategy in this regard, I know for a fact that spanking has been proven to be not only ineffective, but harmful to the child. Among other things, it leads to even more negative behaviors rather than preventing them. Unfortunately I’ve seen many parents dig their heels in on corporal punishment even after being confronted with this information.

Another thing that I’ve noticed while watching the way parents and other adults interact with children is that not many people seem to place any value in finding the time to actually explain things to kids. I don’t know why that is. I’m sure it could be many things from demanding unquestioning submission to their authority, to impatience, to modeling their parents’ behavior, to thinking the child wouldn’t be able to comprehend anyway.

One of the things I’ll never stop giving my mom credit for is always being willing to explain things to me. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized just how incredible the amount of patience that woman has. She never seemed to get frustrated by my endless questions, even about the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to do something or had to do something else. She was even patient with me when after discovering the reason, I continued to debate with her and push the issue. This level of openness and respect allowed me to become the intelligent, thoughtful person I am today. It taught me to value knowledge and the importance of good communication and mutual understanding. Not only that, I feel it helped my mom as well. I think people underestimate kids. They seem to forget that they are just little humans with wills, wants, and desires of their own. Wouldn’t you be more likely to follow a rule if you understood why it was a rule in the first place? Isn’t it frustrating to be forced to do something just because you are told to?

With all of this in mind, I want to come back to the idea of meditation as a punishment replacement. When you think about it, a time out is already somewhat of the same thing. However, meditation gives this period of quite and stillness an important, clear intention. To me it seems like swapping out meditation for time out has almost unlimited potential for parents, families, teachers, and children alike. I can only image what a different world we would all live in if we started raising our kids this way. Think how much more receptive a child would be to this form of “punishment.”

When a kid is acting out, especially a little one, it doesn’t really make sense to expect a reprimand such as time out, taking something away, or especially striking them to make them calm down. So in the end you need to step back and remind yourself what the goal of these things is supposed to be. If it is simply to get revenge on the child for what they’ve done, then by all means, go ahead. You’re sure to upset them at the very least. But if the goal is to help the child find new, more appropriate behaviors and understand why their current behavior is unacceptable, then it seems like a pretty lousy strategy.

I think it would be a much more helpful and pleasant experience for everyone involved if in response to a negative behavior, someone would explain to the child: 1. Why this is unacceptable behavior. (How it negatively effects, not only others, but the child themselves.) 2. Why meditation is the response to this behavior. (How it can help the child not only behave, but feel better.) No one wants to feel like they are being punished for what they’ve done, even if they know it was wrong. However, we are all hardwired to act with our own self-interest in mind. Wouldn’t you be more likely to participate in something (even if you didn’t necessarily like it) if you thought it would ultimately benefit you?

I only wish someone had been around to teach me meditation as a child. For the most part when a child acts out, it is because they are upset or dealing with emotions they aren’t able to handle appropriately. And it really isn’t their fault, they’ve yet to develop the skills and areas of their brains necessary to properly regulate and process different emotions. Even so, kids know that it doesn’t feel good to be upset or to let your emotions overwhelm you. The majority of my life was spent thinking that these things were just out of my control. What a relief it was to me to discover that I actually have the power to regulate my own emotions and to strengthen this skill like a muscle. I’m sure I’d be much better at doing so if I’d started when I was younger too.

I believe children would really respond well to being taught these new, useful tools. It could simply be explained to them that the purpose behind these “time-outs” is for their benefit. It isn’t just to be mean or make them unhappy because they acted in a way we didn’t like. It is just a time for them to practice using these new tools so that they can have a happier, more peaceful life now and in the future. From what I’ve seen, kids are usually eager to please. Many may be quick to comply if they were told all of these things. It all comes down to treating kids with the patience and respect they deserve and remembering what we want the purpose of punishment to be.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

Lessons from Childhood

I find it very interesting to see the way the children I work with interact with the world around them. Although their problems and emotions are often less complex than those that come with adulthood, they can be surprisingly similar in other ways. I find myself specifically fascinated with those common toddler tantrums. It may sound ridiculous coming from an adult, but I identify with their unmanageable emotional states more than you’d think.

It used to make me panic when a little one would start freaking out, but now I see it as an important opportunity. I’m so used to seeing parents only responding with more threats and yelling. Which obviously only makes the child freak out even more. I have no idea what they hope to accomplish with that. Perhaps it’s just an example of the parents having little to no control over their own emotional state while dealing with the child’s.

For me these moments relate back to my dilemma about helping people when they seem stuck in thinking and seeing things a certain way. One of the many wonderful things about children is how malleable their minds are. When a toddler is pouting, I see it as a great opportunity to test out different methods of helping them escape that unpleasant mindset. What works? You really have nothing to lose because even if nothing works, they tend to come out of it on their own quite quickly.

I still haven’t been able to make any super significant progress. But yesterday I did think of something that I’ll definitely try again. A little four-year-old girl was pouting because we took away a box of things she was ripping up. As she stood their, arms crossed, teary-eyed, I tried to come up with a way to show her that it was a waste of time to be angry and upset. Their time at our center was almost over and I wanted her to see that her time would be better spent further enjoying all the toys we have instead of pouting. One question, did seem to make her pause.

I eventually thought to ask her if she liked feeling upset. After a stunned moment of silent thought, she stubbornly answered yes. While it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, she did seem to see a glimmer of humor in this blatant lie. What I was actually getting at though, and what I hope to be able to show more kids, is that it’s our choice whether to be upset or happy. It seems like I didn’t learn that until a few years ago myself.

When these strong emotions come up inside of us, especially when we are young, it feels like they must be right. That we must be supposed to feel this way, because of whatever has happened. It seems impossible to feel any other way. Then we become indignant, latching on to these negative feelings, insisting on the truth of them. Little ones luckily don’t have the willpower or attention span to hold onto them for very long. But as we grow older, rather than learning how to let go of these feelings quicker, we seem to learn how to hold onto them for far longer instead.

It’s funny how we all agree the things children throw fits about are ridiculous, but as adults we feel our inner tantrums are fully justified. Yet in the grand scheme of things, they are all just as silly. And even if they aren’t, it never helps to harbor negative feelings and sour even more moments in response to things not going our way. Maybe part of the reason I am so interested to figure out ways to help kids with these feelings, is so that maybe I can gain some insight into how to better help myself with them as well.

Photo by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com

Children

It is crazy how much can change within you in only a year. When I first began working at a child advocacy center, I really didn’t like children very much. I know it sounds awful, but it’s true. I didn’t dislike them. I just hadn’t had hardly any experience with them in my personal life, let alone at work. I have no idea why I was even hired to be honest. My social anxiety has always been extra overwhelming when it comes to children. I had never learned what I was supposed to do or say around them. I had no idea what to expect or how to respond.

Learning how to talk to and behave around children is just another one of the many reasons I am inexpressibly grateful for this job. Now that I have been able to spend so much time with children, it turns out that I actually love them. They are so much better than adult humans. So innocent and loving. So eager to please. So eager to learn and to understand. They are truly amazing little creatures. There is a unique joy that comes from gaining the trust of a child, to be offered a tiny hand or hug. Even though we aren’t supposed to be touching one another right now because of the pandemic, who could deny such a blessed gift?

Part of me began to worry when I realized I actually love children now. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but when I was 22 or 23 I had my tubes tied. I never had the desire to have children, and was always terrified at the idea of accidentally getting pregnant and having to have an abortion. Or even worse, not being able to get an abortion. I am still so grateful that I found a caring doctor that was willing to respect my wishes and my right to make decisions about my own body. Never once did she talk down to me or try to tell me I’d change my mind some day. And I’m relieved to be able to say I haven’t.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to regret that decision. I still firmly believe that human being in general are a plague upon this planet. I would never add more fuel to that fire. Besides, I could never allow myself to bring a child into this world knowing I’d have to watch them die when the earth becomes uninhabitable in a few decades. I still think I am too selfish and impatient to be the kind of mother I would want to be. I’m still more than happy just having my fur children. Besides even if I ever wanted a child of my own, I would never be brave enough to go through pregnancy and childbirth. That whole process still seems horrific to me. I see no difference between an adopted child and one that has my DNA. I’d happily be a foster parent or adopt a child if the urge ever struck me to bring a child into my life.

For now I feel like I am exactly where I need to be. Being a child advocate is the perfect job for me in so many ways. Apparently a lot of people that don’t want to have children of their own end up working with children instead. I think it’s a perfect compromise for the nurturing, motherly instinct I have as a woman. I am still able to have children in my life without having them in my home. I have a place to help them learn and grow and thrive, while also still having my privacy and personal space at home.

I finally understand that deeply fulfilling feeling of being a positive influence in the life of a child. It is such a magical thing to see the world through their eyes, to see how much your words and actions mean to them. I can see now why so many people are able to have limitless hope in humanity. These little beings are capable of becoming anything. They have so much potential to do good in this world. They are so full of curiosity and love. If only there were more people around them to teach them how to hold onto that love as they grow older. The children of this world are definitely capable of learning, sadly the adults are not competent enough to teach them.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com